Opening its doors at the end of the year, Cap Karoso in Sumba aims to meld the modern and traditional in this mystical Indonesian island
Even with travel largely on pause, hoteliers around the globe have had to keep things humming whether they were running a hotel or building one. Despite the pandemic, there has been a constant stream of new hotel openings this year, giving us more reason to dream of our next city getaway or beach holiday.
Case in point: Cap Karoso in Sumba, Indonesia—a brand-new hotel with 47 rooms and 20 beachfront villas with social spaces including the Julang restaurant, Explorer’s beach club, a spa, main pool, open-air cinema, and more.
The Indonesian archipelago may have over 17,000 islands but Sumba has captured the hearts and imagination of curious adventurers, including Fabrice and Evguenia Ivara, the first-time hoteliers behind Cap Karoso.
In 2015, Sumba was emerging in the consciousness of the global jet-set as an undiscovered island with virgin beaches and a captivating culture, all just a quick hop from Bali. The pioneering and award-winning resort Nihi Sumba paved the way for this gem of an island to gain worldwide recognition and become one of the most popular remote island hideaways.
The Ivaras were one of those entranced by Sumba's rugged allure. “When we arrived the wild, untouched feeling of the place was such a refreshing contrast to the world of globalisation, with buffaloes on the road, piglets running free, indigenous tribal traditions, and pristine beaches. That sense of adventure impacted our perspective on life, and we felt that was really worth crossing the planet for,” says Evguenia, who together with her husband Fabrice moved to Singapore to forge their new paths as hoteliers.
Here, we get to know more about Cap Karoso, a member of Design Hotels, through its French founders.
Sumba has been in the international spotlight thanks to the pioneering hotels. What will Cap Karoso bring to the island and to its guests?
We both share a slightly nostalgic ideal of travelling, looking back to a time when taking a trip to another country was rare. There was an elegance to that kind of travel, and it’s that combination of style and adventure that we want to recreate at Cap Karoso.
We found that often sustainable concepts in remote destinations were geared solely towards well-being. We wanted to bring a sophisticated and multi-dimensional approach to the experience. That means mindful exploration, finding solitude in nature, but also enjoying lifestyle experiences, such as refined gastronomy, mixology, and music traditionally associated with urban hotels. It’s all about giving our guests a choice to be adventurers and wander in the complete wilderness during the day and then connect with other travellers over a perfectly executed drink at night.
What will Cap Karoso look and feel like?
Architecturally, the resort revolves around a “village” represented by several traditional houses, with their high thatched roofs paying tribute to local villages. Our modernist buildings have gardens on their roofs connecting them to the landscape, which in turn is conceived entirely around native plants.
The deepest level of connection is within the interiors, where we wove the local Marapu symbology into the space and objects illustrated by the carved wooden panels inspired by the geometry of Sumbanese Ikat and its animal symbols. We’ve partnered with Indonesian creatives to interpret local traditions and heritage through contemporary objects and art.
You mentioned wanting to infuse a “French touch” into the resort. How do you ensure that you still offer an authentic Sumbanese experience?
We started the project by requesting ancestral approval, which was luckily granted by the local ratos (shamans) and village heads. It is important for us to operate in collaboration with the community, so the Cap Karoso team will be mostly from Sumba, thanks to our partnership with Sumba Hospitality Foundation, a local NGO providing education, skills and career opportunities to underprivileged students.
We want to create the same spirit of cultural connection, curiosity, and authentic exchange found in a typical laid-back French bistro, where the guests genuinely engage with staff. It’s about getting to know the place through its people.
The farm is an integral part of Cap Karoso. What is your favourite part of it?
When Evguenia was growing up in Russia before moving to France, she spent every summer in the countryside at her grandmother’s house in Ukraine. Her grandmother had these amazing tomatoes in her garden, and the taste of the freshly picked from the vine is something she struggles to find anywhere else (especially in Singapore!).
Our personal favourite part of the farm is our greenhouse, which grows varieties of tomatoes sourced from the South of France and Georgia. Apart from incorporating them in salads, they will be used to produce a homemade tomato sauce for our pizzas, to be cooked in a pizza oven crafted for us by the artisan Acunto family from Napoli.
You call Cap Karoso an “eco-conscious resort”. How do you ensure that it is truly sustainable?
From the start, our idea was to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. For example, 50 per cent of our energy comes from our solar park, with a goal to reach 85 per cent by 2025. Water is an issue in Sumba, so we have a water treatment system and an intelligent landscape design that doesn’t need too much water while providing shade. Energy-efficient design is incorporated in the green roofs and open-air living rooms and communal spaces. Plus, we have banned plastic packaging throughout the resort.
We are also working with eco-minded partners and suppliers to sustain our green philosophy from room amenities and toiletries to the furniture varnish. The farm, set up by renowned French organic agriculturalist Philippe Guiglionda, will also host a school of agriculture for the local community to access sustainable farming methods. We are planning for other eco-conscious initiatives in the future, such as coral conservation and more.
What was the biggest challenge of building a new hotel (and a new career) in the midst of a pandemic?
Cap Karoso is all about community and connection, which was hard to do with social distancing and the travel ban. The same goes for a new career where one is supposed to be building a new network and being nourished by others and experts in the field. We had to learn how to create meaningful connections with people without ever meeting them.
Tell us one secret about Sumba that you can’t wait for your guests to discover soon:
The local ratos, or shamans, still play an important part in social life in Sumba, performing roles from conducting weddings to predicting the best day for planting seeds. So the shamanic healing traditions are also still alive on the island, some of which our guests will be able to experience at our spa.